Sociocultural anthropology is the study of contemporary living human societies. It is based on the concept of “culture” as both a form of human adaptation to the environment, and a set of beliefs, practices and concepts that regulates human behavior and thought. While historically, sociocultural anthropologists studied primarily the cultures and societies of colonized peoples, since the mid-20th century, the focus of the discipline has shifted to include all contemporary human societies. Today, sociocultural anthropologists study a wide range of human cultures and subcultures. Typically, this is done through fieldwork and participant observation: living with a particular cultural group for an extended period of time, participating in their cultural activities, and engaging in a formal study of some aspect of these activities and behaviors. Sociocultural anthropologists make a living in a number of different fields, depending on their area of specialization; these include higher education, public policy, museums, national and state parks, and private industry, where they can help conduct marketing research and consumer behavior studies.
Sociocultural anthropology includes the subfields of Folkloristics and Applied Anthropology.
Folkloristics is the formal study of folklore, or traditional expressive culture. Folklorists study and analyze the artistic, expressive aspects of culture that are shared by members of cultural groups or subgroups, and have continuity in time and space. These include various genres, or kinds, of folklore, such as folktales, myths, legends, ballads and folksongs, proverbs, jokes, folk dance, folk craft and material culture, foodways, ritual and festival. Folklorists research the meaning of these forms in the cultural contexts in which they are found in order to better understand the values, desires and creative impulses of the people who produce them.
Applied anthropology involves the application of anthropological knowledge to address real-world problems and situations. Applied anthropologists work in fields as diverse as health care, education, research and development, immigration reform and addressing immigrant needs, public interest research, public heritage management, museums and national and state parks. Their goals include facilitating communication between people of diverse backgrounds and larger agencies and institutions, and working for social justice.
Sociocultural Anthropology at CSUN
CSUN’s Department of Anthropology includes faculty with a wide range of interests in sociocultural anthropology, including gender, markets and economic anthropology, ethnohistory, craft specialization, foodways, folklore and expressive culture, religion, fashion, landscapes and the public use of space, medical anthropology and indigenous healing systems, ethnographic film and film making, and the use of anthropology in education, from K-12 to community colleges to museums, national and state parks. We have area specialists in North, Central and South America, Europe, and Africa. Our students have gone on to work in museums, national and state parks, community colleges, private industry and the public sector; to professional schools of law, business and medicine; and to pursue Ph.D.s in Anthropology at research universities in the United States and abroad.